Our Opinion: Tough sentencing

Monday, January 23, 2006

Many readers recall the horrifying story of a few years ago about the Kansas City pharmacist who admitted he diluted chemotherapy medications and pocketed the profit. Prosecutors estimate the scheme involved 98,000 prescriptions for 4,200 patients.

Now the pharmacist, Robert Courtney, is appealing his 30-year prison sentence. A plea bargain included a recommendation for a sentence of 17 to 22 years with a cap of 30 years if the judge found reasons for a longer sentence.

U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith had what could be called the reaction of a normal human being. He said Courtney's crimes were "a shock to the civilized conscience" and "beyond understanding." The judge gave Courtney 30 years in prison.

Courtney's lawyers are arguing the judge overlooked crucial considerations in handing out the 30-year sentence. But federal prosecutors say part of the plea agreement was a promise that Courtney would not appeal his sentence. A judge might, without a sentencing cap, decide to give the former pharmacist an even tougher sentence than 30 years.

Cancer patients who were hoodwinked by Courtney's inhuman scheme to line his own pockets, along with their loved ones and friends, probably think 30 years in prison is a pretty light penalty for what he did. Let's hope appellate judges agree.